Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Pull Together: Eno Williams of Ibibio Sound Machine’s Favourite Records

From Nigerian jùjú to American R&B, Ibibio Sound Machine’s Eno Williams speaks to Alastair Shuttleworth about some of the music that shaped her life, ahead of a set at this year’s Green Man

Photo by Matilda Hill-Jenkins

A decade on from their eponymous debut album, Ibibio Sound Machine’s fifth record Pull The Rope sees them captivated by the same great idea: a socially conscious, irresistibly danceable fusion of classic West African funk, 80s R&B and contemporary indie electronica. Compared to 2022’s Electricity, however, Pull The Rope feels grittier, tougher, and focused more unwaveringly on the dancefloor. 

“It’s all about trying to bring everyone together, rather than everyone fighting,” says vocalist Eno Williams of the album’s name – sung with gang-vocals in the celebratory, disco-inflected title-track. “It’s like a tug-of-war, where there’s two sides pulling together. It’s an invitation to have dialogue, and to dance together.”

Just as Pull The Rope aims to reconcile people, it also works to reconcile musical ideas from across different decades and continents. “I was born in London but spent my childhood in Nigeria, so I’m a product of both sides of the world,” Williams explains. Her work with Ibibio Sound Machine has married the music from these two parts of her story, but also from the past and present. “From the start we were always trying to marry traditional African instrumentation with electronics,” she says, “to create something that’s unique and different.”

There’s a temporal complexity to the electronics themselves: the classic acid house bass squelches on ‘Got To Be Who U Are’ trade off in ‘Fire’ to a more contemporary-sounding palette of hard, plasticky beats and synth arpeggios. This album drafted in producer Ross Orton, who – before working with Arctic Monkeys and M.I.A. – lent drums to the robot-sex anthems of analogue synth-purists Add N To (X). “He’s great at pushing the sound without taking away from what we do,” Williams says, crediting him with helping to “make it a bit more edgy.”

Lyrically, Pull The Rope’s overwhelming focus is on unity, community and free expression. This informs Williams’ discussions of social media in ‘Politically Incorrect’, moving between countries in ‘Them Say’, and her reflections in album-highlight ‘Mama Say’ – described by Williams as simply “paying homage to mums, and to women.” 

Following a UK album tour, which closed with a hometown show at London’s KOKO, the band are back on the road. This summer they take Pull The Rope across Canada, the US and the European festival circuit (including Green Man in August), before returning for a second, larger run of UK tour dates in November.

Taking a moment to speak to tQ, Williams discusses some of her all-time favourite albums. Featuring records by her favourite Western artists alongside others she discovered during her childhood in Nigeria, it includes selections which helped influence her vocal style, her work with Ibibio Sound Machine, and the band’s excellent new album. 

Ibibio Sound Machine’s new album Pull The Rope is out now. Among a run of forthcoming shows they play Green Man Festival, which takes place 15 to 18 August. To begin reading Eno Williams’ Bakers Dozen, click ‘First Record’ below.

First Record

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